As a general-purpose technology, ICTs hold the potential of transforming economies and societies. They can help address some of the most pressing issues of our time and support inclusive growth. With the Networked Readiness Index, the World Economic Forum, Cornell University, and INSEAD assess the ability of countries to leverage ICTs for increased competitiveness and well-being. In doing so, this Report aims to provide policy guidance to decision makers, as well as to inform multi-stakeholder dialogue.
The results of the NRI reveal that the ICT revolution has not yet spread around the world. The capacity of a country to benefit from ICTs is strongly influenced by its stage of development. Indeed, the drivers of networked readiness are often the same as the drivers of development in general. Northern and Western Europe and the Asian Tigers continue to dominate the NRI. Yet the results point to a wide-ranging number of success stories, from the Baltic countries to the Gulf countries, the Caucasus, and Central America.
Yet ICT potential is held up by limited uptake in many countries. ICTs are far from being ubiquitous, and they are not yet spreading as quickly as many believe. The mobile revolution that began in the mid-1990s remains unfinished. Approximately half of the world’s population does not own a mobile phone, and many parts of the world are not yet covered by a cellular network. And even when universal penetration has been achieved, it is not a panacea because the most promising ICT applications require more than voice and SMS.
The developing world needs universal, reliable, and affordable Internet. Less than 10 percent of the population of low-income countries use the Internet. Current trends and technological developments suggest that the Internet revolution will be a mobile one. Given the lack of infrastructure and the cost of fixed broadband access, mobile broadband (i.e., 3G and above) is becoming the technology of choice, but it remains prohibitive in too many countries.
Furthermore, all countries—even the most advanced—must pay attention to the growing gap within their borders between the younger and the older generations, the urban and rural dwellers, the information-rich and the information-poor, the digitally literate and the those left behind. If ICTs are indeed an amplifier of potential and capabilities, then it is likely that this gap will increase in the coming years unless concerted action is taken to correct it.
Even though the NRI framework does not directly address these intra-country digital divides, one of its premises is that the ICT revolution does not depend on access alone and cannot happen in a vacuum. The quality of the ecosystem and the preparedness of the population are paramount to ensuring that everybody benefits.
Policymakers and their partners must adopt a long-term, holistic vision to address those challenges. This requires smart long-term investments in infrastructure and education. But they can earn quicker, easier wins by adopting sound regulation aimed at promoting competition, innovation, and private investment. In the following chapters, leading experts and practitioners present solutions for a growth-supportive and inclusive ICT revolution.